After partying hard on New Year’s Eve, many of us start the year feeling pretty dead. But for one temple on the far edges of Bangkok, they take that feeling to the next level. A New Year’s Day tradition sees temple followers crawl into coffins to invite good luck and rid themselves of bad luck for 2023.
Wat Takian, in the greater Bangkok suburb province of Nontha Buri, invites its followers to take part in the ceremony. People lie in the open coffins with their hands pressed together in the wai position. Flowers and sticks of incense are placed between their hands.
The devoted temple members will remain still in that pose, the same position the dead bodies are placed in before being incinerated in a crematorium. Buddhist monks pray over the coffins, chanting over the faux corpses.
While the ritual of lying in a coffin may seem strange and macabre, the symbolic idea behind it is familiar. Many religions, cultures, and individuals view the new year as a kind of rebirth – a fresh start. The year 2022, and all the ups and downs that came with it, are dead. Now 2023 has been born and we are cleansed with a chance to make a new year of triumphs and successes.
Wat Takian just physically acts out the process by having its followers lie in coffins as if they have died and after the ceremony are reborn. They perform the ritual each year for free but accept whatever donation participants see fit.
Similar ceremonies are not uncommon in Buddhism and can be found in Thailand, China, Japan, and Tibet in various forms. In Thai-Chinese communities, a person’s belongings are thrown into a grave instead. The ceremony is believed to make people live longer too.
The coffin ceremony is not only for good fortune and removing bad luck, it is meant to inspire people to live a good life of prudence and discretion by reminding them that no one escapes death.
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